I left Chihuahua yesterday (Sunday) My host Daniel and the pollocks got up early to hit the road so I decided to do the same. Daniel was a great host, and I was able to take a day off from riding while feeling the comfort of his home. They sent me off in style with a group photo:
I stopped at the Starbucks to finish up some work on the internet. In front of the shop there was a marathon in progress, I got there just in time to see the leaders go through, and sat for the duration as hundreds of runners passed by. It was really amazing to see the Indian men running in sandals and skirts!
I left the city center of Chihuahua where I was staying, veering towards the edge of town to find a place to work on the Moto. Two days ago, when entering the city I experienced an overheating episode at about 90mph with all the other crazy drivers. The bike began bucking at speed and stalled out – after stopping and allowing the bike to cool off I topped of the oil and it rode fine but In knew something was up. I decided that it was time to change the oil and the filter. It seemed an appropriate measure after passing the 2k mile milestone of the trip, add to that and I hadn’t changed it since I bought it -“bad oil.” I thought “its got to be bad oil that caused the bucking.”
I stopped at a place near the outskirts of the city with a billboard of a man holding a liter of oil I figured it would be a good place to start. The shop was owned by a classic Mexican man with a handlebar mustache wearing a cowboy hat and his middle aged son. I got the correct weight oil I needed and asked them where I could change it -they pointed across the divided highway to a car wash. I crossed the road and talked to the man in the rubber boots wielding a pressure washer. “No el mecánico no está aquí, el regresas in la manana” – the guy who changes the oil isn’t here. “no problem,” I said I have tools “may I borrow your bucket for the oil?” “si, si” he replied and ran off enthusiastically for the bucket. I left bag of oil with him and ventured back across the highway – dodging traffic and breaking in the meridian before making another dash for the bike, still parked at the oil store.
When I returned to the car wash the man had moved the both the oil and the bucket to a location that he said I could work on the bike , how nice. I am carrying some tools with me but I didn’t have the right wrench to remove the oil filter cover from the engine block. I asked the man for a wrench – he said the mechanic had
What followed was a nearly hour long ordeal which involved no less than 5 people. I was having difficulty getting off the cover for the oil filter and didn’t have the right sized wrench. The hospitality in Mexico is unfounded. Everywhere everyone wants to help, and rush eagerly to assist in any situation. There are so many working people, all gas stations are attended, all car washing is done by hand. Crops are harvested by hand with Scythes and wrapped in neat bundles in the field. It is all quite a shock coming from America where the workers are hidden and you are left with this stale concrete framework of society, where beyond the movement of cars there is very little interpersonal activity.
Eventually with the help of a man with both metric and English calipers we were able to figure out the English equivalent of my nut, 5/16ths and dig it from one of the various cardboard boxes of tools that were presented. It amazed me how no one had a complete set of tools, just boxes of random bits and pieces, if you didn’t have something you just went to the guy next door. The amazing part about all of this, besides the downside of not being able to find things efficiently, is that it works, the whole system in Mexico is held together by good faith and an intimate relationship that inevitably develops through these prolonged interactions. By the time I left, oil filter changed I was genuinely thankful for the old man, his son, the car wash attendant, the boy with the bucket, the man with the calipers for they had all helped me so much on a Sunday nonetheless. I asked the old man if I could by the socket size to avoid this problem in the future, “sure” he said “10 pesos” “what about the next guy?” I asked referring to whomever might need the part next – “it’s next time he said”..
I stopped at a supermarket before hitting the road to buy some supplies. With an avocado, some tortillas, a pouch of refried black beans and a bottle of hot sauce I enjoyed the last bit of my Cabot cheese on the curb outside the supermarket. Bikebum style.
The Road to Ciudad Cuatemoc was fast and straight. At the first COBRA – or toll booth I encountered, the lady took out a notebook and asked me my name “Brandon obrien” I replied, “can you spell it please?” she said, handing me the notebook. I scribbled down my name and country and she waved me through — odd I thought but at least I didn’t have to pay a toll. On the highway I passed a ton of Motorcycle riders in the opposite direction. “Maybe the copper canyon really is a super mecca for motorcyclists?” I thought to myself.
In La Junta where the road splits for Creel I stopped for some gas, there an older man in a motorcycle jacket approached me speaking in Spanish. He said that he was a representative for the BMW riders of Chihuahua and that they were having a barbeque across the street – he motioned to a group of riders, he said he’d like to host me.
Let me be clear that I have been in no easy way adjusting to life in Mexico, I’m assailed regularly by children, merchants, drunks and various people of all types every time I stop the bike and it takes a little getting used to.
Sometime in the night the roar of the river near my campsite deadened and I was left enveloped a deafening silence and darkness of a star-less night on the Indian reservation. This land was horrid and dirty – I was still wet from the day before in Ophir only covered in mud from getting my bike stuck that evening. I squirmed in my wet sleeping bag. It was cold.
A short walk up the raod this morning confirmed that there was no way across the river past the two large culverts that had been washed out. The weather was clear and I waited for the sun to hit my canyon to dry my things. I wasn’t going to sleep another night in a wet sleeping bag. Amazingly the muddy torrent of a river had almost completely dried up – as if it had never flowed in the channel before, all that was left were the steep embankments – eroded away from what was left of the road. Mucking back to my campsite in the muddy road I actually thought myself lucky that I dropped the bike where I did – because if I had gone any further I would have been in a quicksand that was nearly a foot deep. I found it hard to walk through – the wet clay clinging to my boots as I pulled them from the earth. “fuck this place” I said to myself.
The Gnats as if spurred into a 24hr breeding frenzy from the rain swarmed my face and eyes. I must of killed a hundred of them the night before in my tent – performing the midnight genocide to esure that none of them feasted on me as I slept. There was the scent of death in the air. This was a dead land – and nothing stirred, only the crows who would periodically break the silence with their mocking calls.
The bike was covered in mud, I didn’t care. I cooked up a pot of coffee and thought about which direction I would head today. I hoped to skirt beneath Mesa Verde national park – crossing the Colorado New Mexico boarder somewhere in the backcountry on Ute land, I was about halfway up the road, about 18 miles in on the map and I didn’t want to back track. There was another spur that headed east, away from the washed out bridge that looked like it would take me all the way to HWY170 and south to Farmingham NM – at least that way I wouldn’t have to go back through the loose gravel trenches I had ridden the night before towards Shiprock.
When the sun at last finally crested the edge of the canyon my tent and sleeping bag began to steam in the sun. Hopefully the worst of this weather was over – I had been in the elements for the last 24hrs and I didn’t want to spend another wet and cold day on the bike. The bike wasn’t doing so well either. It was having a difficult time starting – I started to suspect that the battery had been over worked by the various electrical accessories I had installed, but it also didn’t seem to be charging. I would press the button to start and sometimes, nothing – no activity from the starter. I had been push starting it for the last day and disconnected my electronics to try and recharge the battery. Today even in the sun and after driving it for 250 miles yesterday it would not start. I kicked and pushed it through the sand to try and get enough speed to turn the engine. Luckily these KLR’s don’t take much to turn over, but each time I push it, it takes at least two tries in full riding gear and break out in a sweat.
When I was certain everything had dried sufficiently (glad to kick that beast after the last couple of days) I headed back to the main gravel road. I passed the skull & cow skeleton in the road again and took a photo reflecting on the irony of the omen I ignored before hitting the quicksand and the washed out bridge the night before.
I turned right when I hit the “main” road. the composition of the surface seemed totally backwards a loose layer of gravel over mud – making it both slippery and unstable. Tucks had worn in ruts in the gravel and I had to balance the bike in the tracks or risk loosing it in the piles of loose rock. The ground was so porous beneath gravel surface that I couldn’t even use the kickstand on the bike when stopped because it would surly sink and fall over. I struggled to maintain the correct amount of speed – too slow and I would sink, too fast and I would slide on the gravel. All and all it was a nerve racking way to spend the morning. I passed a few of the same ramshackle Indian dwellings – sad cabins weathered by the wind with bits and pieces of plastic tarps clinging to their roofs. I couldn’t tell if they were abandoned or inhabited and I didn’t want to get to close to find out.